Adding Value: BRM and Vendor Engagement
As seen 12/15/15 on the site of the Business Relationship Management Institute
Reminisce with me please, to a time ten years ago. You have been working at a corporation for many years. You have ridden the technology wave to a position of comfort and confidence. Not only are you good at what you do, but the future seems so bright that you need to wear shades.
One day, you hear that there has been a parade of vendors coming in to meet with executives, and they’ve been promising astronomical cost savings with no loss in productivity. Their secret sauce: offshoring. In the blink of an eye, many jobs are lost, including yours. Human Resources, Finance, and especially Information Technology are offshored en masse.
A decade ago, this scenario was so common it hardly made headlines after some time, and it continued for several years. In what seemed like a never-ending parade of lost jobs at home, hope seemed lost. However, fast forward to today, where things have changed for many companies. Why? The reason isn’t because of patriotism or leadership’s increased tolerance of spending more, it’s because leaders demand value, and they weren’t seeing enough of it with mass offshoring. The result? The trend of offshoring has reversed, and many jobs are coming back with just one caveat: to get the job, you need to strategically add value to the company.
In a recent article from Techtarget.com titled, “IT talent crisis redux: This time, it’s about business analysts,” the author provides insight into the latest trend of onshoring and where it is focused. He summarizes the trend in his expanded definition of business analysts (hint: it includes the terms ‘value’ and ‘relationship managers’):
Business Analysts/Relationship Managers: Individuals who comfortably move between business and technology are key to consistently deriving value from IT investments.
In my book The Levers of Embedded IT, I heard this theme often from the many leaders featured. There were an abundance of great ideas, but one theme that seemed to differentiate the strategic from the mere order taker was the ability of the Business Relationship Manager (BRM) to engage vendors.
Vendor engagement can be an elusive ingredient in the strategic BRM formula. Many can get caught up in the “tyranny of the urgent” while foregoing the longer-term value of engaging vendors. However, vendor engagement is a must for all BRMs. Here are the ways we need to engage vendors as part of our jobs:
Business-to-Vendor Liaison: One of the BRM’s primary duties is to be a liaison between the business and the business function, whether it is Finance, Human Resources, or IT. In the majority of organizations, Finance, HR, and especially IT use vendor technologies and vendor consultants to deliver their capabilities to the organization. Therefore, the BRM needs to work with these vendors, beginning with transactional needs like issue resolution. The BRM can add significant value when they relieve their partners of cumbersome resolutions.
Issue resolution begins with relationship building and the BRM’s familiarity with how the vendor works. BRMs should not only get to know their vendors and the best way to resolve issues, but they should acquaint themselves with the power players and other key people. By doing so, the BRM will free up the time of their business partners, in order for them to do more strategic things. A word of caution, however: the BRM should play a resolution role when the issue is significant. Otherwise, the BRM’s involvement in the day-to-day resolution process for minor things will turn the BRM into a help desk agent and not a strategic partner.
Expanded Value Workshops: When systems are heavily relied upon, the BRM can work with internal business analysts to determine which features currently exist in the deployment that are not being utilized. If any of the identified features would have strategic impact, the BRM and the BA can then facilitate training sessions given by the vendor. Vendors always welcome this opportunity, as it is seen as a chance to showcase more value on their part, making for a win-win.
Vendor Brainstorming Workshops: The smartest and most successful professionals realize early in their careers that many (if not most) of the great ideas that advance an organization come from outside the organization’s walls. The BRM must especially note this and engage with directors and VPs to understand their strategic needs (which should be part of the BRM’s role already). Afterwards, it is critical for the BRM to facilitate idea-gathering from vendors with these strategic needs in mind, which is best done in cooperation with the internal business unit the BRM serves.
When a vendor suggests ideas that appear to be on the leading edge, create a more structured workshop for the vendor to explain the ideas to the business. The vendor will jump at the opportunity to do this, as they see it as a selling opportunity. Again, a win-win.
Technology Day: Another way BRMs can engage vendors is to have a Technology Day. Many leaders featured in my book The Levers of Embedded IT described creating an event where they invited technology solution providers to exhibit their “best of” solutions. This event accomplished three primary goals:
1) Exposing the business to solutions in a controlled way
This exposure effectively eliminated the issues maverick vendors can create when they sell vision with no path to success.
2) Allowing IT to see what is appealing to the business
This event gives IT a productive forum to learn what the business sees as its future needs, as well as an opportunity to be proactive in meeting them.
3) Presenting IT as a business vision enabler
IT does not always have to come up with the idea. Sometimes, all that is needed is becoming the channel through which the idea is learned.
This concept works just as well for Human Resources and Finance BRMs as it does IT BRMs. Again, vendors will jump at the opportunity to partake in a Technology Day, as they see it as another win-win selling opportunity.
BRMs who want to focus on the future and not the feature proactively work with vendors, and vendors are best engaged as partners. Typically, business functions with which BRMs converge strive to see vendors as partners, meaning that the BRM should think the same way. The business uses technology vendors as game changers, while service vendors are seen as augmentation and flex capacity mechanisms. Since they are obviously an important part of getting the job done (and are an extension of the organization itself), it is critical for the BRM to work with them frequently, proactively, and effectively. Vendor engagement can make the difference between success and stagnation.